Repost from The Albany Times Union [Editor: We can expect that this kind of training is being initiated all across North America, given the proliferation of derailments and explosions. Has the Benicia Fire Department sought training? Other Bay Area fire departments? How about a regional training event? – RS]
Firefighters train as crude oil surges through Albany port
Controlled blaze gives firefighters practice for a real oil event at portBy Brian Nearing | May 8, 2014 An instructor, right, leads firefighter trainees during a live fire training drill on best practices for the suppression of ignitable liquids such as crude oil in the event of a flammable liquid emergency at the Port of Albany Wednesday May 7, 2014, in Albany, NY. (John Carl D’Annibale / Times Union)
To practice fighting towering flames that could erupt should crude oil-laden trains ever derail and explode, firefighters in the Port of Albany on Wednesday practiced on controlled blazes created on something not unlike a giant barbecue grill.
In a parking lot off South Pearl Street, about two dozen firefighters spent several hours dragging hoses to spray special foam on fires fueled by propane lines from a tank truck parked nearby, and that burned both in vapors bubbling in a water-filled pan on the ground and from a valve atop an adapted tractor-trailer.
Flames would shoot up, teams of firefighters would creep up to spray foam, flames would be extinguished and then the next team would repeat the exercise.
The state Division of Homeland Security ran the two-day drill, which is part of routine training done statewide for local fire departments and companies with their own firefighting crews, said James Cable, chief of the division’s Special Operations Branch.
Later Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring all railroads operating trains hauling large loads of highly flammable Bakken crude oil — like those into Albany’s port — to notify state emergency response officials about routes and operation of rail traffic through their states.
The rule requires rail companies that have trains containing more than one million gallons of North Dakota Bakken crude — equivalent to about 35 tanker cars — to notify state officials on the routes of those trains.
Also the rules asks oil shippers to phase out use of the oldest, least-safe tankers, known as DOT-111s, as soon as is practical, without setting any deadline.
Applauded by U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer, who last week called for such notification, and Kirsten Gillibrand, the federal announcement came after the local safety drill was finished. Before the drill, Albany Deputy Fire Chief Frank Nerney Jr. called the drill “an extension of our regular training to understand the use of foams to fight flammable liquids. We take part in this drill twice a year.”
Nerney said training has focused on crews at the South End firehouse, which is closest to the Port of Albany, where trains carrying Bakken crude oil are arriving daily. Crude shipments have skyrocketed in the last two years. Derailments and massive fires in Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama and Quebec in the last year have raised mounting safety concerns.
In some of the infernos, flames were up to 200 feet high. Wednesday’s flames were much smaller, appearing to shoot five feet from the water-filled pan and 20 or 30 feet from the tractor trailer. Crews wearing protective clothing were able to walk within a few feet of the flames, which were still hot enough to be felt by reporters standing back about 40 yards.
New recruits from the Albany department, as well as its five battalion chiefs, took part in the drill, as well as members from fire departments from Schuyler Heights, Maplewood and Schenectady and the SABIC chemical plant in Glenmont.
Cable said the principles of the propane-based training system apply to crude oil fires or other “ignitable liquids.” The chemical foam is mixed with water under pressure, and the foam is sprayed over a fire. It acts like a blanket, sealing off the surface of the burning liquid from air, which extinguishes the blaze. The foam is consumed gradually by fire, and so must be applied enough to create a barrier; otherwise, gaps will allow air to continue to feed the blaze.
The state has run the training course for local departments for three years, said Cable. “We are looking to increase this training, as more communities are asking for it.”